Sympathy for the Devil

Posted by Mark Payne

Wayne Rooney could leave Manchester United in acrimonious circumstances as Jose Mourinho's Chelsea circle around the disgruntled striker. However, this week's revelation that the striker was "angry" and "confused" by comments from David Moyes is merely the end of the England man's tether. The reality is, United have been pushing him towards the door for nearly a year now.

- Wenger: Arsenal can afford Rooney
- Mourinho: It's Rooney or bust
- Marcotti: Rooney mess should have logical ending

Nobody doubts the quality of the job that Sir Alex Ferguson has done for Manchester United. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that the man who refused to speak to national broadcaster BBC for eight years might be familiar with the idea of holding grudges. It is also fair to say that the man who rejuvenated United's entire youth system knows a thing or two about forward planning.

When you put those two things together, it spells bad news for people who fall onto Ferguson's dark side. That, of course, is exactly what Rooney did in 2010 when he played a game of brinkmanship with United and publicly questioned the club's ambitions. At the time, Roy Keane went on the record to say that "Fergie would not forget" the episode, and so it has proved.

Ferguson's purchase of Robin van Persie last summer is rightly seen as the coup that brought United the championship. The fact that it was made in tandem with the acquisition of Shinji Kagawa, a former Bundesliga Player of the Year, could only have been a direct slight towards Rooney.

Rooney didn't do himself any favours by turning up for work on the portly side in August 2012, but his quality is sufficient that he deserves the benefit of the doubt sometimes. He didn't get it. In fact, Ferguson spent the entire campaign using Rooney as a utility player, the season's John O'Shea if you like.

Many bemoan the fact that Rooney earns so much money and that he should just quietly get on with his job. The plain facts state that if he is not the best player in the Premier League, he is very close to it. He is almost certainly one of the best five players in the world. He earns as much money as he does because he is worth it as a footballer. And as a striker.

To complain about his attitude is also wide of the mark. If you compare the manner in which he selflessly runs around the pitch and chases every ball to players at -- for example -- Manchester City, he looks like a saint. Carlos Tevez had a tantrum and played golf in Argentina for nine months after being asked to warm up. Sergio Aguero was missing in action for most of his second season in England. Rooney's conduct has not even come close to those drastic levels of unprofessionalism.

At the age of 28, Rooney is absolutely right in thinking that he is approaching his peak. Moyes should be building his Manchester United side around Rooney rather than continuing Fergie's feud. When one casts the mind back to the performances Rooney put in directly following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure to Real Madrid, it whets the appetite for what could happen with a Rooney-centric team. Every defender in the world will tell you he is unplayable on his day.

Rooney departed Manchester United's tour earlier in the week with a grade one tear to his hamstring. As the week comes to a close, that minor laceration looks insignificant compared to the cavernous split that is emerging between him and the club.

But it would be inaccurate to say this is all the result of Rooney's petulance. He has been backed into a corner by Ferguson's long memory, and the treatment he has received looks very much like a case of constructive dismissal. His position has been made almost untenable by vindictive management.

Australia calls itself the lucky country. Moyes could be forgiven for thinking he is due a roll of the dice since he arrived there. If having ten squad members out injured and losing his first match against the Thai All-Stars wasn't enough, this Rooney situation has exploded while he is on the other side of the world too.

As United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward rushes back from Australia to deal with the furore, he will have one thing firmly on his mind. Despite what water may have passed under the bridge over the past 12 months, selling Rooney to Chelsea would be a massive mistake. But Rooney could hardly be blamed if he now thought that was his best option.

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